Breast Cancer Awareness - advice and facts

01 October 2018

Spire Gatwick Park Hospital breast consultant Miss Shamaela Waheed has key advice and facts about breast cancer. She is one of the few female onco-plastic breast surgeons in the Surrey and Sussex area and sees about 500 women in her clinics every year.

“The most important message I want to pass on to women during this month of awareness is don’t panic if you discover a change in your breast. Most women I see are the `worried well’ - that is, what they have noticed is harmless and they don't have breast cancer. However, all of them will be given a thorough breast assessment and reassurance."

“And if it is cancer, more women than ever before are surviving this disease. This is due to three things - awareness campaigns (encouraging women to regularly check their own breasts), the national breast screening programme for women aged 50 to 70 (as breast cancer is often diagnosed early) and better treatments."

“It is important that women make sure they attend their breast screening appointment, and if they have any concerns about a change in their breasts, they must see their GP straight away. Putting off that visit won’t make the symptoms go away, and hopefully they can be reassured that all is ok.”

Self-help tips:

  • Check your breasts - do this once a month from the age of 16-18 years. There is plenty of advice online on how to do this (see website information)
  • Armpits matter – make sure to check into your armpit as this is where the breast tissue ends, and lymph nodes can be felt
  • Family ties – just because your mum had breast cancer doesn’t mean you will get it too. Talk to your GP if you are concerned about a family history of breast cancer. You can assess your own genetic risk using the online tool OPERA (Online Personal Education And Risk Assessment) found on the Macmillan charity website
  • Make lifestyle changes - drinking more than the recommended 2-3 units of alcohol per day can increase the risk of breast cancer, so too can smoking. Ask your GP for advice and support on how to quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption

Are you over 70?

If you are over 70, you still have the right to have a free mammogram every three years, but you will need to self-refer. Make an appointment via your GP or through your local breast screening unit. You can find your nearest one by visiting and clicking on `Services Near You’. You won’t get an invitation or reminder in the post, so put a note in your diary to do this every three years.

If it is cancer…

Miss Waheed says with the right treatment you can enjoy a normal life expectancy. Today 78% of women in England and Wales survive breast cancer for 10 years or more.

“From experience, and anecdotal evidence, a positive mind-set, coupled with a good diet and regular exercise, can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurring,” she says.

The treatment available to you will depend on the type of tumour and how advanced it is. If you do need surgery, the procedures are so advanced that you will be left with little scarring.

“Surgeons understand that women want to be able to move on with their lives after surgery and procedures leaving more cosmetically acceptable scars will help with that. And if a mastectomy is necessary, reconstruction surgery for some women can take place at the same time, which all helps reduce the psychological trauma.”

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